In her latest exhibition House and Universe, multimedia artist Mary Mattingly weaves together lush digital photography with experimental design to tackle real-world environmental issues in ways that are both radical and pragmatic. Mattingly imagines a world of imminent vicissitude, in which humanity must become reliant on a collective ingenuity in order to survive floods, war, and the inevitable decay of the urban habitat. Yet in the vein of other conceptual utilitarians like Andrea Zittel and Anish Kapoor, she proposes solutions that marry carefully-researched, sustainable functionality with succinctly elegant and elegiac forms. Her photographs reconcile apparent contradictions: both sumptuous and austere, they are at once warnings of material excess and celebrations of its adaptability.
Mattingly's attitude towards modern consumption is most obvious in pieces like Life of Objects, which precedes the otherwise fantastical narrative to metaphorically establish the current state of the world through the artist's eyes. Yet while the image initially reads as straightforward critique—an exposed and vulnerable body, crushed by the weight of the things it carries—its subtleties suggest something different: cradled in the curve of the spine, these "things" are also our blanket and thus our protection. Subsequent works like Floating a Boulder and Flock explicate the ways that wayside objects can transform into clothing, transportation, or shelter in a post-apocalyptic world.
Imaginative reinvention of objects forms the backbone of Mattingly's most recent public project, Triple Island, which opened July 20th on Pier 42 in Lower Manhattan and continues through November 2013. Like its predecessors, the 2012 Flock House Project and 2009's Waterpod™, Triple Island proposes adaptable living spaces for an increasingly unstable environment. Inhabited by Mattingly and other volunteers from the artistic community, all three constructions have utilized gray water, solar power, and other low-impact systems to sustain habitable conditions in urban spaces like piers, parking lots, and city squares. By digitally collaging photographs of Triple Island and the Flock Houses with new environments, Mattingly begins to blur the boundary between documentation and fiction. The tangible realizations of her illusory visions—and their subsequent re-capture and alteration as simulacra through the photographic lens—create temporally ambiguous images that exist both as fantasies of the future and records of our burgeoning present.
Mattingly recently participated in MoMA PS1's "Expo 1" in collaboration with Triple Canopy Magazine, received a Knight Foundation Grant for her WetLand project that opens next summer on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, and represented smARTpower in the Philippines, in conjunction with the Bronx Museum and the US State Department. Her first Art 21: New York Close Up documentary video was released in July 2013. Mattingly's work has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, Seoul Art Center, The New York Public Library, the Palais de Tokyo, Tucson Museum of Art, and the deCordova Museum. Her work has been featured in Aperture Magazine, Art in America, Artforum, Sculpture Magazine, China Business News, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Financial Times, Le Monde Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, The Village Voice, and on BBC News, MSNBC, Fox News, News 12, NPR, WNBC, New York 1, and Art21. Her writings were included in Nature, edited by Jeffrey Kastner in the Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art series. This is her third solo exhibition with the gallery.